Looked like a shoo-in, didn’t it? For some time now, CTIA and a clutch of US carriers have been laying the foundations for Senate Bill 649; legislation aimed at giving wireless companies similar deployment rights to public utilities. It required US cities to approve permits for equipment that will be deployed ‘in the public right-of-way or a commercial or industrial zone and complies with all federal, state and local safety regulations’.

And the pro argument is very familiar to the industry: Connectivity is a necessary good. It supports and helps boost economic activity and has clear societal benefits. The bill, CTIA claimed, would pave the way to faster network speeds, better coverage and increased capacity – what’s not to like?

Well, in California SB 649 was opposed by some 300 cities, dozens of counties and more than 100 local organizations. Predictably, California Governor Jerry Brown hammered the final nail into the coffin a week or so back, when he vetoed SB 649 into oblivion.

‘SB 649 is a handout to the wireless industry,’ opined Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities. ‘The bill shifts power and resources from local governments and our residents to the telecommunications industry.’

Should we really be surprised?  In an era in which ‘the people’ in the US (and elsewhere) are increasingly suspicious of top down initiatives, what hope for legislation that provides that ‘no state or local statute or regulation, or other state or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service’? Or, perhaps more significantly, a bill that caps the amount cities can negotiate for leases on public property at $250?

Yet if this setback should turn out to be a taste of things to come, the California veto means big trouble for the wireless industry. Escalating data usage coupled with the propagation characteristics of the 5G new radio both point to the need for the deployment of very significant numbers of small cells, sooner rather than later.

Real Wireless has long argued for the streamlining of deployment regulation, but we also believe that you must take municipalities with you on the journey. Maybe SB 649 was doomed from the outset, because it took too much away (i.e., money and power) and offered very little in return that would mean much to a local authority (e.g., ‘Greater capacity’).

The wireless industry needs to learn to speak in language local authorities understand. And if federal initiatives are to be successful, they need to be incentivised.

For example, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) is currently setting down the core connectivity infrastructure a city needs in place to deliver ‘smart city capabilities’. Ubiquitous fibre, public WiFi and small cells are all part of such specifications. With so many US cities queuing up to establish their smart city credentials, maybe the time has come to make the kind of grants recently awarded to Los Angeles contingent on the availability of certified capabilities and the supportive regulatory frameworks required to make a real smart city possible?

It’s called a policy nudge, isn’t it?

For many years, Real Wireless has positioned itself as the bridge between the wireless industry and the businesses and end users that benefit from connectivity. We also have a strong track record working with industry organisations to help them evolve and better communicate their policy agenda to key stakeholders.

 

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